Change Making with the Port Fairy Soccer Club

Regional Sport Victoria (RSV) together with Football Victoria (FV) and Victoria University (VU), has been supporting 60 football clubs state-wide in an effort to deliver initiatives to prevent violence through sport.

The program is being rolled our as part of the ‘Preventing Violence through Sport (PVTS) project – Change Makers’ which is supported by the Victorian Government, and is an innovative collaboration to create safe club environments that support gender equity.

The program is now through its third intake of Change Makers and is having a significant impact with a number of clubs involved showcasing a strong commitment to make tangible improvements and create significant opportunities for women, girls and non-binary people in their community.

One of those clubs in question is the Port Fairy Soccer Club – a club that in 2020 relaunched itself after a 20-year hiatus from being active.

Led by a small group of keen locals, the club re-formed with a men’s team and since has added a women’s team, an under 12 all girls squad, and multiple junior teams and programs.

One of the club’s volunteers and Change Makers is Annie North – a local who has been invested from day one in the re-birth of the club.

View Annie’s Change Maker Profile here

Speaking about her involvement, North explained that she was drawn to the club through her partner’s involvement as a player.

“When the Port Fairy Soccer Club had its inaugural year, my husband played in their first ever men’s team – since starting up again. And I really love the attitude and culture that I could see them building,” she explained.

“It felt a little bit different to other sporting clubs and I felt really included even being a person on the sidelines, and I was invited to be part of things.”

“They would talk about the fact that they wanted to start a women’s program and that it was up and coming, and it felt really warm and inviting and quite a safe place to be even as a spectator or a family member.”

This prompted North to join others in starting up the women’s team which at first seemed a straightforward prospect.

The ‘football’ side of the task was pretty easy to piece together – things such as getting new women to join and conducting practice and training sessions.

However it soon became evident that there were going to be many barriers that needed addressing in the current club and league environment to create a culture that would breed successful long-term implementation.

And gender equity has been very much at the forefront of these barriers.

“The women’s program started very gently, and over the initial summer we had lots of training sessions that were just come and try sessions, before more formal training started in 2022.

“But what we found is that once we actually got into the formal part – the start of the league and the start of the draw, there were only three teams that ended up being part of the Football Victoria league.”

“And the experience that I had or felt at Port Fairy was not what I felt in the wider context of the league – I could see that it was a quite a well-established league, and that there were a lot of men’s teams, and that they had a much stronger program.”

“The emphasis was very much on the men’s teams and their spaces and I think we know that really, traditionally with sport that these clubs and these competitions were started back when the wider context was that men play sports, these are men spaces, and they’re built for men.”

“These spaces are not as friendly for women and girls. There’s not a stronger competition for women and girls. And there’s not as many pathways for women and girls.”

Change Makers has helped North to consider that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to understand all the barriers surrounding gender equity within sporting clubs, to then be best placed to address them.

Understanding the needs, beliefs and priorities of individuals, clubs, leagues and even Football Victoria plays a significant role in this and it is where the club now finds itself on their journey.

“I think Change Makers has opened my eyes to show that I thought I knew more than I did – the importance of gathering that evidence is not something I had necessarily considered,” North admitted.

“I’d be thinking more from the perspective of personal experience, as a player and as a support person, because I did coaching while I was pregnant, as opposed to looking more objectively and gathering evidence from all corners.

“I think that the importance of gathering evidence as well is so that you can understand what space we are actually working in. I have realised that there are other people on this journey as well at very different stages and with very different resources. In the big picture, we’re all in a space of addressing what is happening in the wider societal context and that is slowly changing.”

“There are other people on this journey as well as most people are in this for the right reason – to play sport, and for people to have fun.”

While the task ahead might seem overwhelming at times, North agrees that the best way to attack the issues facing clubs like PFSC is to start small, start chipping away and to be bringing as many people on the journey as possible.

Through the process of collecting as much information through the program, North and the club will then sit down to put in place a range of items to be implemented as part of an achievable gender equity plan.

This will include support provided to the club as part of the program with the help of an allocated change facilitator to guide and support the process.

The hope is that this will be ongoing and lead to real change within the community club setting.

“My message would be to please get involved – if you think you don’t need it, or your sport doesn’t need it – we do! And especially if you don’t have a women or girls program, it’s so important.

“Girls and women’s sport is so fast growing across our nation and there are so many good opportunities to help build women’s soccer and women’s sport.

“Women are the future of sport as we bring money and opportunities – particularly to regional communities, so it’s a win-win, and you’re not going to lose anything being involved. If you’re feeling a bit defeated, the best thing to do is to get involved because the best way to get it working is for us all to jump on this pathway together.”

More information about the project can be found HERE.

Click HERE to learn more about the Port Fairy Soccer Club.